"Baby team" has unfinished business: Brennan
A guarded Garth Brennan at this stage remains committed to Penrith in 2018 in the wake of his third lower grades title in five years after his young Panthers side defeated minor premiers Wyong 20-12 in last Sunday’s Intrust Super Premiership decider.
Since joining the club from Newcastle in 2012, Brennan has been involved in finals footy in all six years, with title wins in both Holden Cup (2013) and Intrust Super Premiership titles (2014, 2017).
Brennan now takes his team to this Sunday’s NRL State Championship decider against PNG Hunters at Homebush, looking to atone for the surprise loss to Northern Pride in 2014.
Should Penrith win their 13th game of their last 14, Brennan’s odds of securing higher coaching honours in the NRL (with the Gold Coast Titans reportedly keen once more) will improve considerably.
But the Panthers coach has played down speculation, instead confirming that he will be at Penrith in 2018 at this stage.
“My plan at this stage is that I’ll be at Penrith again next year, I’m not actively chasing NRL jobs,” Brennan replied.
“I can’t control what other clubs want to sign me as a coach so there’s no use wasting energy on it.
“But I can control what I can do here at Penrith and if we have success the rest will look after itself.
“I’ve always said it’s nice to win comps but there’s always going to be juniors coming through here so I’ve always got a job here to develop them into NRL players.
“But whatever role Gus wants me to do that’s up for him to decide and whatever that is I’ll do.”
In order to win last Sunday night's grand final against Wyong, Brennan not only overcame an indifferent start to the season, having won just five of their opening 13 games, but also the likes of Peta Hiku, Te Maire Martin, Samisoni Langi, Michael Oldfield and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak to other clubs and Corey Harawira-Naera, Dylan Edwards and Tyrone May to the NRL side.
In part it explains why Brennan’s third title, which reaffirm his status as Penrith’s most successful lower grades coach in their history, is his most satisfying yet.
“It’s probably the most proudest I’ve been of them because both the other grand finals we were pretty red hot favorites for both of those,” Brennan told Nepean News.
“In the 14 side, we had a lot of experienced players like the Wes Naiqamas, the Kevin Kingstons, the Tommy Humbles and the Luke Capewells.
“That 14 side also had some handy talent by the names of Bryce Cartwright, Waqa Blake, Isaah Yeo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
“Whether this side has the same level of talent as that 2014 side did, time will tell.
“But this year’s team is full of babies (apart from the older fellas, Darren Nicholls and Mitch Rein) being mostly be 20-21 years of age.
“They’re a very gutsy football team and I’m proud of them and now they’ve got the chance to play next weekend against PNG.”
Sitaleki Akauola is just one of two players in this Panthers team to have played the PNG Hunters (Credit: NRL Photos)
Brennan’s unfinished business with the club continues with this Sunday’s clash with the PNG Hunters, who will have the lion's share of the crowd support despite Penrith being firm favorites to win.
Brennan, who is just the second coach after Jason Demetriou, who won with the both the Northern Pride (2014) and Illawarra (2016), to have a second opportunity to coach in this final, will be looking to avoid a repeat of that surprise loss in 2014.
“I didn’t handle it well last time and I blame myself for that,” Brennan concedes.
“It was the first year when it came in 2014 and we probably celebrated that NSW Cup grand final win a little too long and didn’t give the National Championship game the respect it deserved.
“But I’ve learnt from that and we will be approaching it this year more seriously.
“While I think PNG, who are a quality football side, are a fantastic rugby league story in getting there, they don’t have to win it.
“I believe in the players and I know what they can do it.
“It’s a very prestigious trophy that we would like to have in the Panthers cabinet if we can get it.”
Kickoff for this Sunday's NRL State Championship game at ANZ Stadium is at 3:40pm.